|8-14 Apr 2007|
|Mon, 9 Apr
A couple of days in Shenzhen confirm what I have suspected for some time, and that is that our neighbouring city across the border will at some stage be a better place to live in than Hong Kong. I would give it 10 years at the very most. The days when the police handcuffed child pickpockets to railings are long gone. Cinemas don’t seem to have hordes of prostitutes waiting outside them any more. (I never did quite work out why anyone would take a hooker to a movie – wouldn’t the young lady’s ministrations be a distraction from the film, or vice-versa?) I suppose you can still be robbed in the big mall Hongkongers go to at Lo Wu, or you can let some mini-skirted wench lure you into a den of credit card thieves. But it requires carelessness, and counts more as a lifestyle choice than an accidental calamity. The taxi drivers are decent enough, though cursed by the traditional Mainland philosophy of road use. They have sidewalks large enough to accommodate the people. They even have parks! Serious novelties.
What they don’t have is a male karaoke singer chanting the French line “…sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble…” in the Beatles’ song Michelle as the words would be pronounced in English – in a Filipino accent. This I witnessed last night in the pub in Lan Kwai Fong. In fairness, he pronounced ‘les’ properly. But ‘ensemble’ rhymed with ‘resemble’. It will be a long time before Shenzhen has anything like that.
|Tue, 10 Apr
Seven million hearts swell with pride at the sight of a humble local boy making good. Donald Tsang’s first job after leaving high school was pharmaceuticals salesman, handing out samples of pain relievers to cramp-prone nurses and schoolgirls. Then he got one of those cushy and secure Executive Officer jobs in the civil service, where you wear a thin sweater over your shirt and tie, and double-check requisition forms for paper clips at the rate of one per hour. Then he passed the Administrative Officer exam and joined the bureaucracy’s dazzlingly intelligent and capable Hong Kong University-trained elite, to be groomed over the years to rule over the city’s dim-witted and infantile population with aloof paternalism and the complete self-assuredness that results from being intellectually superior and following correct procedures.
After receiving a knighthood for his service to Her Majesty the Queen, Donald pinned a little red flag to his lapel and scrubbed the streets to prove his complete loyalty to Tung Chee-hwa and the Communist Party. His reward came when an exasperated national leadership unceremoniously dumped the crop-haired one and kicked our loyal patriots and sycophants in the teeth by installing the bow-tied colonial running dog in his place. First for two years, partly to appease the local shoe-shiners who were struck dumb with horror at this turn of events, but mainly because there was no way Beijing was going to trust a former British lackey and Catholic who could switch masters just like that. And now, having proved himself reasonably devoted to serving the imperial court, they give him a full, second term as mayor of the Big Lychee.
“O sniveling and potentially unreliable minion,” reads the letter of appointment from President Wen, “we hereby assign you as our obedient and dutiful head man in the fragrant harbour, pledged on pain of death to battle evil foreign forces plotting to undermine our mandate of heaven, to maintain a balance of interests between various sectors, and to ensure that all your fellow southern barbarians focus on the economy. Or else. Tremble and get on with it.”
|Wed, 11 Apr|
|Hong Kong is in grief this morning. First of all, it is the last day to submit names like Branwyn and Velveeta for Ocean Park’s new panda bears – a distraction that has given me countless hours of innocent pleasure. Second is the latest news from Shatin race course. ‘Horse virus no threat to Games trials’ says the headline. As well as raising eyebrows and questions about what these creatures get up to in those luxury stables, the outbreak of herpes among local equines represents a great lost opportunity for the whole community. This could have been the excuse we needed to dump the tiresome Beijing Olympics show jumping events on someone else. Alas, it is not to be.
Despite the best attempts by Government spin doctors to present this as cost-free and a great honour and gift to us from the glorious motherland, all right-thinking people know that providing the venue for this peculiar spectacle is going to be a burden. The Jockey Club will be getting 44,000 sq m of public land out of the deal. We will have to put up with hundreds of pompous officials in brightly coloured blazers wandering around with clipboards and stopwatches. And there will be all those unspeakable spectators turning up in their Land Rovers, braying at each other and shoveling droppings into plastic bags to take home for their rose bushes. At least, these are my distant memories of such occasions. Another is nearly being kicked in the head by one of the brutes at the age of around three. It missed by an inch at most. I have had little time for them since, though they are not completely without use. Excellent in sandwiches, too.
|Thurs, 12 Apr|
|If I were granted three wishes I would be tempted to use one to get a magic wand that could wave away lengthy and tiresome public proceedings instantly and for ever. The first to vanish would be the inquest into the death of police constable Tsui Po-ko. While originally of some interest, involving a lone nut shooting people, the whole thing has become complicated, bogged down in detail and immensely tedious. Perhaps this is to punish our valiant law enforcers’ recruitment, training and assessment personnel, to remind them not to put people like Tsui in uniform – but why does the entire community have to suffer this mind-numbing trivia about bank accounts and which hand someone uses to fire a gun, month after month? A flick of the wand, and Zap! The next would of course be the unbelievably wearisome inquiry into Government interference in the Hong Kong Institute of Education. This investigation, now apparently in its 14th year, seems to have congealed into a big wobbling globule of finger-pointing, back-biting and hearsay being trundled among a group of supremely uninteresting people who think the rest of us care what their college is called or who runs it. One wave of the magic baton, and Poof!
For wish number two, I would further contribute to society by sorting out all the stupidity Microsoft saw fit to put in its Windows operating system. So, for example, it would offer to download an mp3 file into My Music, where all 5,000 previous mp3s are stored, rather than guess it should go into My Pictures, because the previous download was of a jpg file. It would even let you rename a file while it is open. For wish number three, I would tempted to carve myself a place in history by naming the up-and-coming entertainment area between Lan Kwai Fong and Soho, currently known as ‘the end of Hollywood Road and the top of Wyndham Street’. I would have every map and signpost refer to it as The Interzone, in honour of William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. Then again, maybe not. I think I would use the third wish to get another wand and go back to the inquest and the HKIE inquiry and zap them again, just to be sure.
|Fri, 13 Apr
It is not often I feel terrible in the morning, but today I do – and all because of Kurt Vonnegut Jr (1922-2007). If news of his death hadn’t come through yesterday, I wouldn’t have pulled out my old copy of Slaughterhouse 5 last night. It was wedged between Hubert Selby Jr’s Last Exit to Brooklyn and Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, right in the heart of the mid-20th Century American fiction section. And I read it for the first time in ages, finishing at around 2am – five and a half hours before I was due to accompany the Big Boss to breakfast with a pair of eminent Southeast Asian diplomatic types passing through town.
Fortunately, the S-Meg Holdings Chairman’s favourite location for hospitality at dawn is a gloomily lit and quiet corner. Over an assortment of fresh fruit and dim sum delivered by discreet waiters, the conversation is of mutual acquaintances – Overseas Chinese with complex, adopted native names, skimming fortunes from their respective patches of jungle, diverting some to the easily pleased local leaders and shoveling the rest into Singapore bank accounts. So I am able to ponder the book about time travel and the bombing of Dresden, written in the anti-war climate of 1969. It is surprisingly undated. He refers to revisionist historian/anti-Semite David Irving with apparent approval, using the Nazi apologist’s inflated figure for the number who died in the firestorm. Otherwise – give or take the vision of the USA being split into 20 different countries by 2000 – it’s as fresh as ever. Unlike me right now.
BACK IN the gwailo’s lair, I turn to the news to wake me up a bit. Was anyone naïve enough to believe that Sir Bow-Tie was sincere when he promised before his quasi-election to deliver real political reform? The Great Obstacle Hunt has resumed, with Constitutional Affairs Secretary Stephen Lam leading the way in locating and dragging into the open unfortunate but unavoidable complications that make universal suffrage difficult to achieve. The latest is that it will be hard to abolish functional constituencies because their conservative legislators have enough votes to veto a reform package. In other words, they won’t vote for their own abolition, so pro-democrats need to make some concessions in the interest of consensus. But these are the very same people who would, if mainland officials told them to, jump off the Tsing Ma Bridge at noon today. They will vote whichever way they are told. It is obviously too much to expect our slightly simple-minded pro-democrats to put this to Lam. As Beijing’s bag-carrier, he would surely be able to respond with some honest insight into exactly how keen the Chinese Communist Party is to have universal suffrage in Hong Kong. So it goes.